Abstract: The Marketing of History: The Case of D'Agostino Supermarkets

Paul Schmitz


Patsy and Nicholas D'Agostino came to the United States in the early twentieth century and, like many Italian immigrants, sought to make their fortunes in the produce business. Within three decades, the brothers rose from New York's pushcarts to win unexpected wealth and celebrity as supermarket entrepreneurs. Various public commentators promoted their "rags-to-riches" tale as confirmation of the virtues of post–World War II America. And as the company matured from Italian grocery to cosmopolitan retailer, the D'Agostino family utilized its history as immigrant merchants—and its status as emblems of the American Dream—to identify itself to prospective customers. For the consumer, the longevity and reputation of a business can have as strong an influence as price or quality of merchandise. A company can use its historic identity to reassure customers that it is neither faceless nor heartless, but will act in their best interests because it shares their domestic values and traditions. The case of D'Agostino Supermarkets provides an instructive model of how personal and family history, as well as ethnic identity, can be potent marketing tools, providing retailers with a valuable form of cultural capital.